HL Deb 07 December 1932 vol 86 cc292-302

THE LORD BISHOP OF MANCHESTER, who had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government if they propose to introduce any legislation with regard to "tote" clubs or the totalisator, and move for Papers, said: My Lords, I apologise to the House for rising at this late hour to ask another Question, but I will not detain you long. The Question is one of extreme urgency and I am most anxious to know what view His Majesty's Government take of the position. It may be thought that I am anticipating rather hastily the Report which must come presently from the Royal Commission which is now sitting. If this were an ordinary matter I think there would be a good deal of force in the argument if I were told that I should wait until the Royal Commission had reported before saying anything about any of the problems that are committed to its members. But owing to the very rapid rise of what are known as "tote" clubs, not only in London but all over the country, I am most anxious that those clubs shall not get some kind of vested interest and that we shall not be told later on that they have been established, that a good deal of money has been put into them—my own view is that a good deal more money has been got out of them—and that therefore no action must be taken against them in the way of repression unless they are in some degree compensated or are dealt with favourably in some way.

I do not want at all to raise the problem of betting and gambling. Your Lordships need not fear that I propose to preach a sermon on the ethics of betting and gambling. There are differences of view as to the moral issues involved and we may not all agree about them. There are differences of view about the economic effect on which we may not all agree. But I think that all citizens—I should be surprised to find there are any who are not—who care for the welfare of their country are agreed that indiscriminate and unrestricted opportunities for gambling and the exploitation of the population of this country in that direction are a real social menace of the first order. That has keen shown in the past by the various laws that have been passed to deal with this particular problem—not all of them with very satisfactory results. This particular menace of the "tote" club is, it seems to me, of a particularly cruel kind at this time in the country's history, for the appeal is quite plainly directed in the main—not the whole—to those who are unemployed and those who are poverty stricken. They are certainly the easiest victims.

I may be told that if any action is taken for the suppression of these clubs we shall be making one law for the rich and another for the poor. If that were an allegation with any truth behind it I should not be standing here to make the speech I am trying to make. In a great many directions we do have to protect people. The rich, for instance, can take care of themselves in the matter of tuberculosis, but we very considerably, through the Ministry of Health, help the poor who happen to be afflicted with that disease. Honestly, I think the comparison I am making is a reasonably fair one. I therefore suggest that the population of this country at the present moment, especially the population of the poorer parts of our great cities, both in London and in the provinces, do need protection.

Will you allow me for a moment to go into history, because that history is germane to the Question I am asking? The totalisator, I am told—I am practically an ignoramus in the matter—is a machine which adds the amount in the pool and distributes it amongst the winners, the management taking 10 per cent. Until recently the totalisator was regarded as illegal in this country. It was regarded as a "place" within the meaning of the Act. Hence a Bill was introduced in 1928 in another place and it finally became an Act under the title of the Racecourse Betting Act of that year. There were evidently misgivings in another place about that Bill for on Second Reading it had a majority of only two, but upon being adopted by the Government of the day it was passed. I should like to point out that the Bill was intended by its promoters and was understood by the House to refer only to horse racing. It was an amendment of the Betting Act of 1853 to legalise totalisators on race courses and in 1853, whatever disadvantages they suffered from, they had neither dog racing nor "tote" clubs. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place, speaking on behalf of the then Goverment, said he was glad the promoters of this Bill had not included dog racing within its terms or the Government would have been obliged to oppose it.

During the time that the Bill was in the process of enactment by Parliament the question of the legality of the totalisator was raised, not directly but indirectly, in connection with the Betting Tax which has since been abolished. The case ultimately went to this House in its judicial capacity and the implication of the decision of this House was that Parliament had acted under a misapprehension in legalising the totalisator, for the totalisator was not in fact illegal. As a result totalisators were immediately set up in connection with greyhound racing tracks. As there is a Bill dealing with the problem, a very grave problem, of greyhound racing tracks before the other House I say nothing about it here. But at once clubs began to come into existence and, owing to the fact that the totalisator is expensive, syndicates were formed in order that, expense might be avoided. A very small place, so long as it is big enough to accommodate a number of people, is sufficient for a club. I have seen one in a basement, in a street off one of our principal Manchester streets, which in the past had been used as a small restaurant. Membership of these clubs is nominal. In some cases the payment is a shilling a year. I believe in one rather aristocratic London club it is six shillings. In some cases, to my knowledge, it is only a penny a year.

With regard to the prevalence of these clubs, it was stated in evidence before the Royal Commission that there were thirty-two clubs in London with a membership of 32,500, and the attendance at the Baker Street club was on an average 6,000 a week. With regard to my own City, I should like to point out the rate at which these clubs are increasing. The first two were formed in July of this year—I am speaking only of Manchester, and not of Salford—August was apparently a holiday, one club was registered in September, four in October, and eight in November. I had a letter from Birmingham the other day in which I was informed that six clubs had been registered there since August. But the number of registered clubs need be no accurate index of the number of clubs. Registration is only necessary if drink is part of the machinery of the club, and there are, I am credibly informed, a large number of unregistered clubs with no supervision whatever; and the registered club has very little, as your Lordships well know.

It is the advertising of gambling, together with the complete absence of supervision, that makes one feel that some action should be taken in this matter. There was an advertisement of a Manchester club: "No risk of prosecution, back your fancy, horses in the afternoon, dogs in the evening, excellent beer." Some noble Lords laugh. The humour strikes one, but remember that those clubs are open to men, women and children, that they are frequented by children—I have knowledge of that—and they are brought almost to the doors of some of the poorest of our population. The noble Duke, on the coal question, spoke of the patience of the miner. I can bear equal testimony to the splendid patience under extraordinarily adverse circumstances of the cotton operatives and coal miners of Lancashire. One takes off one's hat with admiration of the way in which they behave, but their women, their children and they themselves are being exploited without any kind of supervision of the way that these clubs make opportunities for them. As a result you get an increase of theft and fraud. especially among young people. You get an increase of poverty in many homes, an increase of misery and—because this thing is based upon pure excitement of the most dangerous kind—an increase of that restlessness and shiftlessness which is demoralising our population. I wonder that it does not deteriorate them more.

That the menace is going to grow I have already indicated, but any reader of the newspapers will have observed that we are threatened with tremendous increases. I saw the other day in a newspaper—I know one does not always believe what one reads—that a syndicate is being formed for opening a chain of a thousand clubs the country through, that they expect a turnover of £100,000,000 per annum—a much more profitable undertaking apparently than even bimetallism—and that every town and village in the country is to have this opportunity. Since I put down this Question to His Majesty's Government I have had correspondence from all over the country, including letters of sympathy and support of a kind that does not usually come to me and that I cannot say I particularly want. I believe the so-called legitimate people who deal with betting and gambling are opposed to this particular aspect of it. I believe the Workmen's Club and Institute has put out of our the introduction of a totalisator. I know that the police are against it. I know those interested in racing are against it—I had a letter from a chairman in one of the most important places in the country bearing out the kind of testimony I have found for myself in Manchester—and I venture to think that any citizen who has the material as well as the moral welfare of the community at heart will sympathise with the desire that this pestilential thing which has grown up, I am sure without the good will of the Legislature, should be dealt with, and dealt with speedily. I ask my Question, as I am sure the noble Earl who replies to it will understand, not because I think the Government are unsympathetic; and I have laid emphasis upon the asking of it not because I suspect want of sympathy but only because I am so impressed with the seriousness of the situation that has arisen.


My Lords, I desire to support as strongly as I can the appeal of the right rev. Prelate for the suppression, by legislation if necessary, of these indefensible "tote" clubs. I say nothing about the use of the totalisator at race meetings, for which there is, I personally think, a great deal to be said; and unlike the right rev. Prelate I have on occasion myself invested 2s. in that form of speculation—I do not say to my advantage, but it has not had any evil effect upon my moral nature as far as I know. But with regard to "tote" clubs there is absolutely nothing to be said, and I have never heard a defence of those clubs by anyone who either has the good of the general public of the country at heart, or who looks upon recreation and sport from a reasonable point of view.

Not only are these clubs condemned by the professional and general public of the country, but it is of importance to remember that they are condemned by those who genuinely support the great national sport of racing. It is known to many of your Lordships that there takes place every year in the City of York a most important gathering of sporting people interested chiefly in racing, called the Gimcrack dinner, where the winner of the Gimcrack Stakes at the York Races is entertained by the racing community of the City of York and elsewhere. That dinner took place in York only a week or two ago, and the strongest speeches were delivered, by people who desire to see the great sport of racing kept clean and to protect those who are interested in racing from spurious and deleterious developments, condemning these "tote" clubs root and branch. There was not a -word said in their favour by anyone, and n my judgment there could not be. Therefore I sincerely trust that if these things are legal at the moment the Government will introduce legislation speedily to make them illegal. I am told that there is, in fact, a case pending in the Courts to decide the legality of "tote" clubs, and of course until that case is decided it would not be proper for the Government to introduce any such legislation; but if it should turn out as a result of that case that these clubs are illegal, then I am sure the Government will take the matter up, to the great satisfaction of the people of the country.

I will only add this: I do not think that the existence of the Royal Commission on Lotteries and Betting need be any obstacle to the Government dealing with this matter by legislation if "tote" clubs are at the moment legal. It is a matter rather outside the scope of the deliberations of that Commission; it is a matter which is urgent, and a matter which, as the right rev. Prelate has shown us, is a growing and dangerous evil. Therefore I hope that we shall get some promise from the Government to deal with it satisfactorily at an early date if it should turn out that the present conditions are legal.


My Lords, at this late hour I will detain your Lordships for only two or three minutes, but I should like to support the right rev. Prelate as warmly as I possibly can on this Question. He first of all suggested in his speech that there might he a future time when people would say: "This is a large vested interest." I say that that time is practically now arriving. I read in the newspaper the other day that there was a large chain of these clubs under one particular interest.

I should like to take one point which has not been put either by the right rev. Prelate or by the noble Lord who has just sat down, and that is the question of the publican. I do not know whether all of your Lordships realise that the publican has to pay one-third of his rent—I think that is the amount—in licence; he is restricted to certain hours; he has to put a notice on the wall that betting, or the passing of betting slips, is strictly prohibited; and he is also under restrictions with regard to children, in that he is not allowed to have any young person of less than 14 years of age on his premises consuming alcohol, or even being there at all, I think. A man may take premises next door to a publican, without any test whatsoever as to his respectability or his capability of conducting any establishment. He can go to the local police station, pay 5s., register a club, and choose his own hours, I think eight hours during the course of a day, so that during the afternoon when the publican has to shut up he can keep open; and for a small membership subscription, as the right rev. Prelate said, of 1s. a year, or even in some cases of ld. a year, he can have anybody he likes in. There is no restriction whatsoever as to whether children shall or shall not come in; children are allowed into those clubs in the same way as they might be allowed into one of your Lordships' clubs in Piccadilly or Pall Mall.

Personally, I think that it is the most undesirable thing possible to allow a man who may have had a criminal record, or any other type of record that you like, to take premises next door to a public-house—and your Lordships will remember that there is a sort of means test applied to a man who wants to take a public-house; he is not granted a licence unless he can satisfy the licensing justices that he is a person of the utmost integrity—and to open a club there, take all the publican's customers with his "tote" club by opening practically exactly as he likes, without having to undergo any test whatsoever as to whether he is a person who should in any way be permitted to run a place of that description. The right rev. Prelate mentioned the question of registered and unregistered clubs. I dare say that most of your Lordships know that an unregistered club is a club run by a proprietor, whereas a registered club is supposed to be run by a committee, the same as any of your Lordships' clubs are run. The fact is that any person who wants to run a registered club can say: "I am going to form this club," and as long as he can put down the names of twenty people as members he can go and register it at the local police station. He has to have a committee and a wine committee, but he can get fictitious people or anybody that he likes as long as they say that they will act. Then he will put it down that his is a registered club, and he can sell alcohol. The fact is that he is the real owner of the place. He gets the profits out of it, and he gets the profits out of the totalisator as well, because the totalisator is put into a club like that on a sharing basis. The totalisator company puts it in for him, and the more people who bet on it the better from his point of view. Really it is a proprietary club run as a registered club; it is only a question of getting a few people to agree to what he says. I should like to support in the very warmest possible manner the Question put by the right rev. Prelate, and I hope we shall hear from the Government that some definite action will lie taken in this matter very speedily.


My Lords, I had been given lots of information about "tote" clubs, but the right rev. Prelate has been very well informed—in fact he tells me that he has been inside one, which I have not had the fortune to have been. The main one near Baker Street is a very few yards from my door, but I have not tried to go in. As the right rev. Prelate says, the Racecourse Betting Act was passed in 1928 to allow totalisators to be introduced on approved race courses, and it was considered that their operation elsewhere would be illegal. There have been one or two cases, especially in Scotland, which have caused doubts to arise on that point, and that has led to that remarkable increase in the "tote" clubs which has been mentioned. I have no official information as to the number now in existence, but according to unofficial estimates in the Press there may be as many as one hundred in London, and about the same number throughout the provinces. They are probably increasing every month. The right rev. Prelate has given particulars of the conditions on which people are admitted as members of these clubs. They have to be proposed and seconded, but that is not a very difficult matter, and pay a small subscription.

There is no doubt that the growth of these clubs is viewed with the greatest misgiving throughout the country. The main opposition, of course, is, as the right rev. Prelate has said, due to the fact that these clubs give increased facilities for betting. There is no doubt that if people are given increased facilities for betting there will be more betting, and it is considered that these clubs now appeal to a section of the community—particularly women, I am informed—who have not previously had opportunities of betting in this way. There is another point of view, but I suppose that the right rev. Prelate is not quite so anxious about this. I allude to the racecourse point of view. These clubs keep people away from race courses, and also, as Lord Kinnoull pointed out, from licensed public-houses, and the proprietors feel that it is the greatest grievance that these people can go to "tote" clubs and get drink. The "tote" clubs have to pay only a registration fee of 5s., and an excise duty of 3d. in the £ on their purchases of intoxicants, whereas the public-house has to pay a heavy fee for its licence. I understand that this competition has already been severely felt and I think your Lordships will agree it is obviously unfair.

The matter was raised in evidence before the Royal Commission on Lotteries and Betting, and a suggestion has been made in the House of Commons, and in representations to the Home Office, that in view of the spread of these clubs the Royal Commission should submit an Interim Report on any aspect of their inquiry which deals with them. It is considered, however, that the question of the submission of an Interim Report should be left to the discretion of the Commission. The attitude of the Government, both as regards the question of instituting criminal proceedings in respect of the operating of totalisators elsewhere than on approved race courses, and as regards amending legislation, has been explained in the answer given on November 24, in the House of Commons, by Mr. Stanley, in reply to questions. I will read what Mr. Stanley said. He said: My right hon. friend is aware of the growth of clubs of this description and of their reactions on other interests of the community. The matter is being closely watched but, before further steps are taken, my right hon. friend must await an authoritative decision by the Courts on the question of the legality of operating totalisators elsewhere than on an approved race course. Such a decision is expected shortly as the result of an appeal to the High Court on a case stated by the Leeds Stipendiary Magistrate. The case referred to was that of Shuttle-worth versus Leeds Greyhound Association, Limited. In that case the proprietors of a Leeds dog racing track were charged before the Leeds Stipendiary for operating a totalisator on their track. The Stipendiary took the view that they were not prohibited by the Racecourse Betting Act, 1928, and considered that the question had to be determined on the construction of the Betting Act, 1853. He decided in their favour, and dismissed the information, but agreed to state a case for the decision of the Divisional Court, and the hearing in the High Court is expected to come on at an early date.

I might add that I have only heard to-day that it was rather anticipated that this case would come before the High Court this very day, and so for all we know it may have been decided one way or another already. Your Lordships will learn the decision in due course. The Government will, of course, have to consider their attitude, and I cannot say definitely what will happen. But I can say that the Government fully sympathise with the anxiety which is being shown in many quarters regarding the growth of these clubs. They have been watching the position very carefully. As soon as a decision is reached in the case now pending the Government will proceed without delay to consider, in the light of the very valuable and informative discussion which has taken place, what action should be taken in the matter. I am sure that everybody will be most indebted to the right rev. Prelate for having brought forward this subject, and given your Lordships' House an opportunity of discussing what is considered to be a really great evil.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House, That the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificate from the Examiners that the Standing Orders applicable to the following Bill have been complied with:

Doncaster Area Drainage.

The same was ordered to lie on the Table.